Sunday, November 29, 2009

33 Hours on the Tamil Nadu Express - And Musings of a Tired Traveller

What do you exactly do with yourself when you're stuck on a train ride that lasts for 33 hours, encompassing 2 nights and 2 days of your life? I was highly ebullient it would be a much different experience, what with a 2AC seat this time. I have tried the sleeper class, the 3AC and the free-for-all 2nd class seats, but 2AC berths are the 2nd most expensive seats in trainland. I, of course, got the dreaded upper berth, but there was much more space! I could actually sit up and do minor contortions! Make no mistake, it is still a stiffling space as I hate heights and I am not fond of spaces that doesn't allow me to roll over!

Earlier this day, I walked back from Connaught's and enjoyed the bevy of locals urinating the whole stretch of walls on the street that lead to New Delhi Station. The stench was overpowering, it was no use that my nostrils were somehow partially congested. I had 5 full hours before my Tamilnadu Express train depart at 10:30PM. But I had nowhere to go! I sat by the bench right in front of the cloak room (aka "left luggage"). I decided to get my luggage back around 9PM. I then noticed the guy sitting beside me. He turned to me and spoke in Tamil. "No Hindi," I said with a smile. From that second on, I acquired a good friend. He works for the army, and is on temporary leave for the next 20 days. Time drives by fast when you're with an interesting conversationalist... and I was glad! He taught me a few things: how to know the unit of your Nokia phone (hahaha!), the difference between the TG Express and the Tamilnadu Express (the 1st one is a superfast train that has about 20 stopovers, while the latter has only 10 - yet the time difference of arrival is just a mere 1 hour), etc.

Unfortunately for my army friend, his ticket (which was paid for by the army - he showed me the receipts) was not yet confirmed, thus we had to look for the reservation charts at Platform 7 to find out if he indeed got a seat. By 10:20, I had to board my train at coach A2, while he struggled with his 30kg bag and hopped on 3AC ("I'll talk to the ticket checker...). Thus was our sweet goodbye. LOL

So back to my initial question: What do you do on a 33-hour train journey? It would help if your bunkmates are receptive. Unfortunately, people using the 2AC and the 1st class bunks are selective, they keep to themselves, like little stuck up virgins! I had with me an over-70 Indian woman who was lovingly sent off by her family of 6. The other lower berth was owned by a writer of sorts (he kept writing - and one of the train employees kept coming back to him, calling him "sir"). You notice these things. When people aren't receptive to you, you just know. I didn't really care. As far as I know, I still look a LOT better than both of them - plus they are old, wrinkly and droopy! LOL

I have long accepted the fact that north indians aren't the most charming people in the world. Unfortunately for tourists, the most popular sights in India are situated up north from Delhi. The south Indians on the other hand are more receptive. In fact, they have a more laidback demeanor, relaxed and accommodating. North Indians, on the whole are more stuck-up and self-absorbed. You wanna contest this fact? I have travelled for 2 consecutive years meeting these people on the streets and everywhere. I am my own witness!

I am glad that I live in an impoverished country like the Philippines whose people can still smile sincerely despite a harsh life. For the most part, north Indians are inhospitable and morose. I have yet to find a fellow backpacker who gushed how they fell in love with the people of India.

If you are a tourist, head south of the country! That's where the jewels of their people are - warm, relaxed, honest (except the autorickshaw and taxi drivers) and receptive. I sometimes wonder why I am very close to an Indian doctor who lives way way up north! Ah, yes... he is Kashmiri. And Kashmiris aren't exactly embraced by the rest of the Indian population, are they?

Another Kashmiri friend relayed his tale of discrimination. During big festivals (like the Diwali or something else), no Kashmiris are allowed to stay in any of the hotels in Delhi or any of the big cities. So then I ask, if you really do not want the Kashmiris, why not allow them to govern their own land? Why hold on to a people and a land that you discriminate against? The reason is all too selfish. And there is an easy reply to this, and not the least of which is of economics. Just look at the land mass of the whole Kashmir. The place is huge (almost bigger - if not bigger - than Tamil Nadu.)

So what did I do at the confines of my berth? I ate my KFC bucket meal (8 pieces, 340 rupees, from Connaught's); I read 2 Bollywood magazines (Filmfare, etc. - mostly about Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan); I slept and slept til I was blue. I only went down my kingdom to pee and stretch my legs. LOL. I wouldn't call it gleeful and enjoyable, but hey, I lived! Did I ever say I enjoyed an Indian train ride?

The Tamilnadu Express. This photo only courtesy of flickr's akshay_30005.

This is the Eye in the Sky.

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